The Premier League should re-examine assurances received from Newcastle United’s Saudi owners that the Middle East state would not have control of the club in the wake of a court document filed in the U.S., Amnesty International said on Thursday.
Newcastle’s takeover by a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) was rubber-stamped in October 2021 after “legally binding assurances” that the Saudi government would have no control of the north-east club.
However, a U.S. court case concerning the PGA Tour and LIV golf this week described Newcastle chairman and PIF Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan as a “sitting minister of the government,” casting doubt on the independence of the club’s ownership.
“The Premier League will surely need to re-examine the assurances made about the non-involvement of the Saudi authorities in the Newcastle deal, not least as there’s still a Qatari bid for Manchester United currently on the table,” said Peter Frankental, Amnesty’s UK economic affairs director.
Sheikh Jassim bin Hamad Al Thani, a member of the Qatar royal family, is fronting one of the two groups who are seeking a full takeover of Manchester United.
The brief filed in the PGA Tour case against LIV Golf described the Public Investment Fund as “a sovereign instrumentality of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”
PIF is chaired by Saudi Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman. Six of the other eight board members are Saudi government ministers, according to PIF’s website, while one is Advisor at the Royal Court and Al Rumayyan is Governor of the PIF.
“It was always stretching credulity to breaking point to imagine that the Saudi state wasn’t directing the buyout of Newcastle with the ultimate aim of using the club as a component in its wider sportswashing efforts,” Amnesty’s Frankental was quoted as saying by the BBC.
“There’s an unmistakable irony in the sovereign wealth fund declaration emerging in a dispute about another arm of Saudi Arabia’s growing sports empire, but the simple fact is that Saudi sportswashing is affecting numerous sports and governing bodies need to respond to it far more effectively.”
LIV Golf and the PGA Tour have been in litigation since several LIV players filed federal antitrust lawsuits last August.
The description of Al-Rumayyan as a sitting minister of government came from lawyers representing LIV Golf, which is owned by the PIF.
Neither Newcastle, the Premier League, nor the PIF immediately responded to requests for comment.